The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel
Supreme Court rulings on issues of church and state are a tangle of conflicting impulses. On the one hand, the Court has struggled over the past quarter-century to avoid even the slightest hint that it is “endorsing” or “advancing” religion. On the other hand, the Court has simultaneously sought to avoid the appearance of persecuting religion, and also to avoid appearing “insensitive” to religious minorities. The strains in this agenda were conspicuously on display in the case of Kiryas Joel v. Grumet, decided this past June.
By the time it made its way to the Supreme Court, Kiryas Joel had aroused a good deal of attention. Some two-dozen groups—representing a wide range of religious faiths, civil-liberties organizations, and the public-education lobby—submitted amicus briefs. Some hoped that the Court would use this case to signal a more accommodating stance toward religion, while others warned the Court to maintain its past vigilance against any “breach in the wall between church and state.”
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